Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Retro-Futurism 16: The Retro Charm of the Millennial Man

"Becoming Superhuman in 2011." From: The Art of Manliness. Batman © DC Comics. Batman is one of the most enduring surviving masculine cultural icons from the 1930s, a man who has taken matters into his own hands. 

Today, the blog pays tribute to a growing movement among men who are looking to the past to find themselves, their role models, their direction, but recasting it in a Millennial style.  One of the most useful, funny and poignant blogs in that regard is The Art of Manliness, which states as its goal "reviving the lost art of manliness"; it's something I know a few Millennial women would appreciate (Hat tip: Kate Sherrod).

There's been a lot of commentary about feminism using reverse-sexism to weaken Millennial males.  One sign of the aftermath is advertising campaigns that always make men look like bumbling idiots, perpetual teenagers or comical liars. Fight Club, a critical novel (1996) and film (1999) that struck a chord with Generation Jones and Gen X men, probably expressed the backlash best: "We're a generation of men raised by women. I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer we need."  A simmering misogyny, weirdly combined with apathy, arose from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, perhaps most evident in the appearance of players who joined movements like the Pickup Artists (profiled in 2005 by Neil Strauss) and their Seduction Communities; this is a group that promises the self-appointed alpha male a chance to find his true mate, a real alpha female.  There was also a backlash against the feminist-approved male, the Millennial Metrosexual.  This argument has been strangely subjected to the seeming rigours of scientific authority, whether through studies that say the sexes are alike - or through the 2005 firing of Harvard's president, Larry Summers, for suggesting that men are better at high-level scientific research than women.

Slowly, the masculine rights movement has moved away from anti-feminism and misogyny and concentrated on self-improvement.  Meanwhile, third-wave feminism has stepped back from full-blown man-hating, and focussed on practical issues.  This debate famously caused a rift between Boomer feminist Alice Walker and her Gen X third-wave feminist daughter, Rebecca Walker (who is also the goddaughter of Gloria Steinem).  In 2008, Rebecca Walker wrote some pretty jaw-dropping stuff about her mother's negative responses to her decisions to have a baby and not reject men as fellow contributors to society (here, here and here).  When you see what Rebecca Walker has gone through (see: "The day feminist icon Alice Walker resigned as my mother"), you get a glimpse of how Boomers have sometimes confused their generational narcissisms with their ideologies, idealism and goals.  Rebecca Walker seeks to discuss the place of emancipated women in a Millennial society that does not blankly accept that gender wars must be the norm.  As a result, she has to fend off Boomer feminist attacks without pulling punches. When you see stories like this, you realize that the first and second waves of feminism had important, needed struggles - as well as terrible blind spots that ravaged not just Generation X men, but also their female contemporaries.

This malaise is not just about ideology, politics, feminism, and generation and gender wars.  Fight Club also talked about the impact of tech on the workforce, our daily lives, our slipping grip on the self and the erosion of time: "You wake up at Seatac, SFO, LAX. You wake up at O'Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, BWI. Pacific, mountain, central. Lose an hour, gain an hour. This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time. You wake up at Air Harbor International. If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?"

The Art of Manliness comments on the modern male malaise, and pegs it on a combination of modern life conditions:
What’s Plaguing Modern Men?
There has been a copious amounts of hand wringing lately about the state of modern men, about the fact that men appear to be falling behind in life and seem unmotivated and listless.

Why all this concern? The statistics are familiar to anyone who has read this genre of articles:
  • Women are more likely than men to graduate from high school.
  • Only 44% of undergraduates at community and four year colleges are men.
  • Female college students have higher grade point averages than men and are more likely to graduate within four years.
  • According to the US Census, “Among young adults 25 to 29, 35 percent of women and 27 percent of men possessed a bachelor’s degree or more in 2009. This gap has grown considerably in the last decade: it was only 3 percentage points in 1999 (30 percent for women, 27 percent for men).”
  • Women are 60% more likely than men to earn a bachelor’s degree by the time they are 23.
  • According to the US Census, for the first time in history, more women than men are earning advanced degrees. “In the 25-29 age group, 9 percent of women and 6 percent of men held either a master’s, professional (such as law or medical) or doctoral degree.” Nearly six out of ten adults holding advanced degrees between the ages of 25 and 29 are women.
  • Men lost 3/4 of the 8 million jobs that disappeared during the recession.
  • For the first time in history, there are now more women in the workforce than men.
  • 1/3 of men ages 22-34 still live at home with their parents. An increase of 100% in the last 20 years. According to the census, among young adults ages 18-24, 56 percent of men and 48 percent of women still live at home with their parents.
Plenty of theories have been offered as to what is behind these statistics. Some say the economy is to blame, as traditionally male industries have been moved off shore or gone extinct. Another reason given is that corporate culture and bureaucracy have sucked the soul out of men and taken away their manly autonomy. Others say it’s our consumer culture and the rise of particularly time-sucking hobbies like video games. And some say the root of the problem is feminism, the changing dynamic of male/female relationships, and the “cheapness of sex.”

But I would argue that there isn’t just one thing that you can point at and decisively say, “That one. That one was the man killer.” Instead, the source of the modern male’s lack of motivation is a conglomeration of all these factors. In short, the “problem” is modern life in general.

To me the modern world is the best possible world to live in, without a doubt. The advancements we’ve made in technology and culture have made life safer, freer, and longer than ever before.
At the same time, no matter how unmitigated a good is, there are always unintended consequences that we have to grapple with. And the unintended consequence of modern life is that men feel lost and adrift.
In a way, the Tech Revolution was the cold bath we needed; it reinforced the fact that we're all in this together.  One post comments that the reason men feel aimless is because we are all moving through a period when we have lost old values and new ones have not yet replaced them.  This is a state of anomie, or normlessness, caused by radical changes in society and technology:
Anomie, which literally means “without law” in German and French, was defined by Durkheim to be a state of “normlessness.” Durkheim posited that in times of social change and upheaval, clear societal standards and expectations for individuals vanish. Without “clear rules, norms, or standards of value” people feel anxious, rootless, confused, and even suicidal. Life in an age of anomie can often feel empty and meaningless. 
Thus, The Art of Manliness steps back from the gender wars and makes a retro move that focusses on reexamining and revamping old standards which used to constitute what it took to be a man.  These values are not (or are no longer), as feminists would contend, about forcing women to submit or obliterating the feminine contribution to society.  Rather, they concentrate on the male condition, a suprisingly nebulous concept that nonetheless indicates that men have to drag themselves out of their existential funk by finding a balance between the past, present and future:
The solution means moving beyond the all-or-nothing proposition we sometimes feel we are stuck with. Men feel like they cannot fully embrace the old ways nor move into the new ways, and so they decide to do nothing at all. But it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. You don’t have to become a sensitive ponytail guy OR a Neanderthal.
Here are some of many retro-futuristic articles, which recall manuals, books and culture from the 19th and 20th centuries, but speak to current and future masculine concerns and problems:

See all my posts on Retro-Futurism.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Retro-Futurism 15: Millennial Women and Future Tech as Seen from 1966

Women's wear vintage op art (1966). Image Source: Flickr.

Below the jump, I've posted a video today from 1966, which predicted what life with computers would be likeby the turn of the Millennium (thanks to -C.).  They didn't quite peg the combined impact of feminism and technology on Millennial women.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Scientists Trap Antimatter for Sixteen Minutes

This is an artist's image of the ALPHA trap which captured and stored antihydrogen atoms, whose trapped path is shown by the electric blue lines. Image Credit: Chukman So. Image Source: Physorg.

Amid April rumours that the God Particle, or Higgs Boson, the theoretical Holy Grail of Particle Physics, may have been found at CERN (the data is being verified and checked by thousands of scientists), there's a new report that the ALPHA project team working at the Large Hadron Collider has captured and studied Antimatter for 1,000 seconds.  From the Telegraph:
Scientists have trapped and stored antihydrogen atoms for a record 16 minutes, a stunning technical feat that promises deeper insights into the mysteries of anti-matter. ... We can keep the antihydrogen atoms trapped for 1,000 seconds. This is long enough to begin to study them -- even with the small number that we can catch so far," said Jeffrey Hangst, spokesman for the ALPHA team conducting the tests at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. In the study, published in the journal Nature Physics, researchers report trapping some 300 antiatoms. Scientists used CERN's high-energy accelerator to create the antihydrogen atoms, and then chilled them to near-zero temperatures. The aim is to use laser and microwave spectroscopy to compare the immobilised particles to their hydrogen counterparts.
(Hat tip: Phantoms and Monsters.)  One of the questions posed in these experiments is why Antimatter is so rare.  It was created when particles collided at the dawn of the universe, creating Matter and Antimatter (explained here and here). Researchers assert that there is no mirror Antimatter universe.  Therefore, in their estimation, half the cosmos is missing.  Scientists are seeking to verify that Antimatter particles would behave consistently if they were in a mirror universe with reversed charges and were moving backwards through time:
Antimatter is a puzzle because it should have been produced in equal amounts with normal matter during the Big Bang that created the universe 13.7 billion years ago. Today, however, there is no evidence of antimatter galaxies or clouds, and antimatter is seen rarely and for only short periods, for example during some types of radioactive decay before it annihilates in a collision with normal matter.

Hence the desire to measure the properties of antiatoms in order to determine whether their electromagnetic and gravitational interactions are identical to those of normal matter. One goal is to check whether antiatoms abide by CPT symmetry, as do normal atoms. CPT (charge-parity-time) symmetry means that a particle would behave the same way in a mirror universe if it had the opposite charge and moved backward in time. “Any hint of CPT symmetry breaking would require a serious rethink of our understanding of nature,” said Jeffrey Hangst of Aarhus University in Denmark, spokesperson for the ALPHA experiment. “But half of the universe has gone missing, so some kind of rethink is apparently on the agenda.”
For other reports, go here, here, here and here.  CERN has a public page explaining Antimatter here. The original article at Nature Physics is here.

The Deep Lull of Conspiracy and Fear

Image Source: Bilderberg 2011.

After the death of Osama bin Laden, the internet and mainstream media were abuzz with rumours of conspiracies and fear of retribution for his killing. US authorities told the public - and especially Americans abroad - to brace for counterattacks. Jordanian experts predicted a backlash in Europe and the Middle East. On 3 May, al-Qaeda acknowledged bin Laden's death and promised reprisals, claiming that bin Laden's death, would become "a curse that hunts the Americans and their collaborators, and chases them outside and inside their country." On 6 May, the astrologer Susan Miller focused on a coming solar eclipse, ominously tweeting: ", pay special attention to days circling the July 1 2011 solar eclipse. Rest of us, holiday weekend, stay safe, stay home." WikiLeaks documents indicate that bin Laden's death would be followed by a nuclear attack in Europe:
Recently released WikiLeaks documents have revealed some troubling – but not entirely unexpected – news concerning terrorist leader Osama bin Laden’s death. Evidently, Al Qaeda members detained at the Guantanamo Bay Prison have predicted that there may very well be be nuclear reprisals for the U.S.’s killing of bin Laden.

Abu al-Libi, the terrorist network’s third in command prior to his capture in 2005, told authorities that a nuclear device located somewhere in Europe would be detonated in retaliation for bin Laden’s death. Fellow detainee Sharif al-Masri added that, if Al Qaeda is able to move the bomb to the United States, it would find someone of European, Arab or Asian descent to ensure it would go off.
Global trade and mass communication and travel during and after the Cold War created a new world society riddled with psychological tension as radically different cultures collided. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the world's bogeymen were painted with different political stripes.  Communists.  Spies.  Guerrillas.  Terrorists.  In the 1970s and 1980s, cult horror combined vivid memories of battlefield carnage in Vietnam with soul-searching best captured by Catholic fears of apocalypse, exorcisms and Antichrists. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the fear of the unknown aggressor coursed through novels and films in the form of 'the stranger you know next door' stories. A neo-noir culture simmered against a backdrop of real-world drug wars, gangland violence and inner-city crime waves. By the mid-to-late 1990s, that tension resolved itself in fear of the government and conspiracy theories about high-level cover-ups alien invaders. 9/11 gave the world a new bogeyman in the form of Osama bin Laden.  And now the bogeyman is gone, but the fear remains.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Did Someone Say ... Apocalypse?

Image Source: I09.

The Necropolis blog just said it all: "I picture the end of the world, whenever that may be, to look something kind of like this." (Hat tip: I09.) Puyehue volcano in Chile has erupted on 4 June.  These unbelievable photographs reveal a rare phenomenon called a dirty thunderstorm, also known as volcanic lightning, when lightning is produced in a volcanic plume.  I'm more inclined to think of the medieval nightmares of Dante or Bosch's early Renaissance than straight old Armageddon.

Lightning strikes over the Puyehue volcano, over 500 miles south of Santiago, Chile, Monday June 6, 2011. Image Source: AP via NPR.
Locals stay in front of their home as ash and steam rise from the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic chain near Osorno city in south-central Chile June 5, 2011. Image Credit: Reuters/Ivan Alvarado.
Ash and steam erupti from the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic chain near Osorno city, Chile, on June 5, 2011. Image Credit: Reuters/Air Force of Chile/Handout.
Lightning flashes amid a cloud of ash billowing from Puyehue volcano near Osorno, Chile, on June 5, 2011. Image Credit: Claudio Santana/AFP/Getty Images.
Lightning bolts strike around the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic chain in the Patagonia region June 4, 2011. Image Credit: Reuters/Carlos Gutierrez.
Lightning bolts strike around the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic chain on June 5, 2011. Image Credit: Reuters/Ivan Alvarado.
Volcanic lightning is seen over the Puyehue volcano, on Sunday June 5, 2011. Image Credit: AP Photo/Francisco Negroni, AgenciaUno.
A car, completely covered in volcanic ash, on Sunday June 5, 2011. Image Credit: AP Photo/Alfredo Leiva.

Most of the above pictures and captions were taken from The Atlantic (which lists full image credits); there are more photographs of the eruption in that report.

For my earlier posts on Storms, go here and here; and for all my posts on the Environment, go here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nosce Te Ipsum

James Rosenquist, Star Thief (1980). Image Source: Yale University Art Gallery/Yale Digital Commons.

Time is Space, Space is Time.  In this philosophical and cosmological equation, space may seem more tangible. Philosophically, space is changing.  And that change, a shift from real to virtual, initially seems comprehensible. Time's corresponding transformation, on the other hand, is obscure. So let us look at what is happening to space. I have posts here and here regarding the distinction between our lives in the real world and our lives in virtual reality. These posts confirm that it is becoming difficult to define reality solely in physical terms. As our understanding of that narrowing dichotomy weakens, what does it mean to exist in a different 'space'?  And once we are there, how much control do we have over the virtual version of ourselves?  Could the virtual Doppelgänger come back to haunt the real person?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 7: Lessons From the Elders of Fukushima

Image Source: Technorati.

The Japan Times recently reported that the workers desperately trying to keep the Fukushima nuclear meltdown at bay are working in terrible, unsanitary conditions, are under horrific stress, and are effectively being treated like a suicide squad:
Many of the workers went as long as 10 days straight without a bath or proper rest after March 11. They also witnessed the hydrogen explosions nearby "and testified that they were prepared for death," according to Tanigawa. "Their level of stress is something unimaginable," he said, adding that psychological care will be necessary for their posttraumatic stress.
Consider, then, the bravery of elderly people, retired nuclear engineers, who are volunteering to work at the plant and continue to control the situation once the current workers flag. From a Time report:
But lest anyone think that Japan's growing coterie of elderly doesn't contribute to society, a newly formed group called the Skilled Veterans Corps shows just how vital pensioners are to rebuilding a nation still reeling from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Composed of nearly 250 retired engineers and other professionals as of June 1, the group is volunteering to tread where few dare to go: the forbidden zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which is still leaking radiation after the earthquake and tsunami devastated the facility. Skilled Veterans Corps was founded by Yasuteru Yamada, a 72-year-old retired engineer who believes that it is the older segment of society that should expose itself to potentially deadly radiation, thereby protecting younger Japanese from long-term health risks. “Even if I were exposed to radiation, cancer could take 20 or 30 years or longer to develop,” Yamada told the BBC. “I am 72 and on average I probably have 13 to 15 years left to live.”

The stoicism and selflessness with which Japanese have dealt with this year's natural disasters have been remarkable to behold. But nowhere is the collective, sacrificial spirit greater than among Japan's elderly. They, more than younger Japanese, remember what it was like when Japan was not yet a rich, comfortable nation. Many, like Yamada, are determined to contribute whatever they can to return their country to normal. “Our generation who has, consciously or unconsciously, approved the construction of the Fukushima nuclear power plants and enjoyed the benefits of the vast supply of electricity generated… should be the first to join the Skilled Veteran Corps to install or repair the [Fukushima plant's damaged] cooling system,” says a mission statement on the group's new website. “This is the duty of our generation to the next generation and the one thereafter." ... So far the elderly volunteers have not gotten permission from the government to enter the nuclear no-go zone. But the dangers at the Fukushima plant, where three reactors have most likely suffered meltdowns, show little sign of abating. Plant operator Tepco announced earlier this week that yet two more workers, one in his 30s and another in his 40s, may have been exposed to radiation levels surpassing maximum government limits. (The current maximum of 250 millisieverts is already more than double the previous ceiling of 100 millisieverts.)
With all the blame being tossed between generations in the online media these days, it's hard to imagine a parallel sentiment regarding inter-generational responsibility, duty and sacrifice being expressed in the West.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Anti-Singularity - The Choice of the New Generation?

To Raise the Water Level in a Fishpond (1997; Performance) © Zhang Huan Studio. Image Source: Weimar Art.

Much ink has been spilt, or pixels for that matter, on the idea that Gen Y is too plugged in and knows nothing of the world as it was before it was riddled with high tech. Every week there is some piece deriding the new generation as passive, unthinking tech addicts. Here's a typical report that teenagers go into withdrawals like heroin users when their networks and gadgets are removed:
Researchers found 79 per cent of students subjected to a complete media blackout for just one day reported adverse reactions ranging from distress to confusion and isolation.

Teenagers spoke of overwhelming cravings while others reported symptoms such as ‘itcing’ which is a familiar sensation for drug addicts fighting to break an addiction.

Some even reported bulimia like symptoms where they would deprive themselves of their phones or laptops so they could binge for hours at a time later.

The study, focused on students aged between 17 and 23 in ten countries. Researchers banned them from using phones, social networking sites, the internet and TV for 24 hours.

They were allowed to use landline phones or read books and were asked to keep a diary.

One in five reported feelings of withdrawal like an addiction while 11 per cent said they were confused or felt like a failure. Nearly one in five (19 per cent) reported feelings of distress and 11 per cent felt isolated. Just 21 per cent said they could feel the benefits of being unplugged.

Some students even reported stress from simply not being able to touch their phone.

One participant reported: “I am an addict. I don’t need alcohol, cocaine or any other derailing form of social depravity.

“Media is my drug; without it I was lost.’

Another wrote: ‘I literally didn’t know what to do with myself. Going down to the kitchen to pointlessly look in the cupboards became regular routine, as did getting a drink.”
As a Gen X commenter, I am not going to join that chorus.  I am not going to walk the path my predecessors walked, and slam the generations coming up behind me.  Anyway, there are signs that this knee-jerk assumption about how people now in their teens and early twenties engage with technology is not entirely correct.

Things That Make You Go Hmm

Banksy, CCTV. Image Source: High Snobiety.

Every week, some headlines make you wonder, even more than usual.  These are some, new and old, that fall in that category:
Even for conspiracy theorists, it must be difficult to find any larger meaning in the daily flood of information.  I like a comment @paleofuture aka Matt Novak recently made: "Infinite narcissists strumming infinite e minor chords will eventually score the complete works of mumblecore."